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Possession (Zulawski, 1981)




This review contains spoilers.

Andrzej Zulawski's Possession is a movie I'd somewhat been dreading revisiting. When I'd seen it all those years back (on YouTube, split into two parts if I recall correctly, as the DVD had been hard to come by in those days), despite being greatly moved by the experience, I'd also found it an extremely exhausting film to sit through. It's a tortured divorce melodrama (among other things) that starts at 11 and only goes up from there. Lots of shouting and screaming, physical abuse, kicking around chairs and tables. The movie is not what I'd call an overtly pleasant experience. Watching it now (on a Blu-ray from Mondo Vision, a substantial upgrade from my original format), while I won't characterize my previous impressions as inaccurate, I was able to better appreciate how the movie modulates this tone, acclimatizing us to its fraught emotional space. The movie starts off in the realm of a normal, bitter breakup, with the husband having returned from a work trip only to learn that his wife is leaving him and struggling to make sense of it, his frustration and anger stemming as much from the fact of her dissolving their relationship as his inability to comprehend her motivations. It isn't really until the half hour mark that it asks us to dive off the deep end with it. The husband hits his wife in the middle of a fight, follows her onto the street as she tries to halfheartedly throw herself onto the path of a truck, which then drops its baggage in an almost comical bit of stuntwork, their squabble ended when the husband becomes surrounded by children playing soccer and joins in. Any one of these by itself is nothing out of the ordinary, but Zulawski assembles them into an off-kilter crescendo, and does away with any sense of normalcy for the rest of the runtime.

That this approach works as well as it does is largely thanks to Isabelle Adjani as Anna, the wife, who spends the aforementioned scene looking like a vampire in cat eye sunglasses and blood streaming down her grimacing mouth. She delivers perhaps the most bracingly physical performance I've seen in a movie, but again this is something I'd maybe underappreciated initially in terms of how finely tuned her choices are. An early scene where she fights with her husband has her manically cutting raw meat and shoving it into a grinder, as if to channel her frustrations into acceptable form of violence for women. When she takes an electric knife to her throat, she begins to spasm about like a farm animal during a botched slaughter, providing a further comment on her domestic situation. The film's most famous scene has her freak out in a subway tunnel, thrashing her limbs about chaotically but almost rhythmically, maybe like the contractions when goes into labour. Her character later describes this as a miscarriage, ejecting the side of her which is neat and orderly and "good". Adjani plays this other half as well, with a much more old fashioned hairdo (braided conservatively like a stereotypical schoolmarm), one which provides a much more tender maternal figure to the couple's son. Adjani is also well cast because of her emotive, saucer-like eyes, which she isn't afraid to point at the camera repeatedly, providing a genuine emotional grounding during both the quieter and more hysterical sections of the movie.

Her husband, Mark, is played by Sam Neill, who had been cast after the filmmakers had seen him in Gillian Armstrong's My Brilliant Career. To understand why Neill works so well, it helps to know that Sam Waterston had previously expressed interest in the role. Waterston, while a good actor, would have come off too fogeyish as the husband. Neill brings the appropriate edge and even sex appeal necessary for the material. And like in Jurassic Park, his best known role, he brings an inquisitive quality that keeps him close enough to our vantage point to give the narrative arc some grounding. The other major human character here is Heinz Bennent as Heinrich, a new age guru who happens to be having an affair with the wife. One on hand, this character represents the counterculture from Zulawski's homeland, which he had left after trouble from the authorities when making his last movie. On the other hand, Zulawski was drawing heavily from the bitter divorce he had just gone through, and directs a sizable fraction of the movie's contempt at this character, leading me to believe that his wife in fact left him for some new age buffoon. In one of the movie's funnier scenes, he has Heinrich confront Mark over Anna's disappearance and then go into a dumbassed trance while spouting new age nonsense and basically calling Mark a Nazi. This is the guy his wife left him for? This jackass? Mark sets him up by sending him to Anna, knowing full well he could be killed, but the potency of Mark's rage (and Zulawski's, by extension), as well as the ludicrousness of the Heinrich character, keep us from sympathizing with the latter too much. Zulawski has Heinrich die with his head in a toilet, a final flush by Mark serving as one last hilariously mean-spirited gesture of contempt.

Zulawski originally conceived the movie as having another major character, Anna's ex-husband, to be played by veteran actor and director Bernard Wicki, but after the first day of shooting with Wicki, he decided to drop the character entirely. (I suppose it depends on the personalities, but I wonder how actors react to being let go early from a project. Is it worse if it's on the first day? How about if you lead the filmmakers to realize they should do away with the character altogether? I only hope Wicki got paid.) It's not hard to see what purpose this character would have served, particularly in the way that Anna "upgrades" her lovers, having traded a much older man for the younger, sexier Mark, and then trying to replace him with an evolving monstrous f_ck-squid (more on this later) that she was trying to nurture and reshape into the ideal partner. The only remnants of this character in the finished film is his young wife, who appears in the climax and his goaded by the "new" Mark (the final form of the f_ck-squid) to shoot into the corpses of the real Mark and Anna. The character's proposed thematic purpose might have spelled out this moment's significance more clearly, but I'm not always convinced thematic clarity is preferable to how things move and feel, and the end product does not feel incomplete or incoherent, or at least not detrimentally so. The emotions make sense, even if the events onscreen are outside the norm. (My condolences to those of you who've been dumped for a monstrous f_ck-squid.)

Having been conceived after his last project was quashed by authorities in Poland, there's undeniably a political element here, enhanced by the noticeable presence of the Berlin Wall, near which much of the film is situated. (At one point the camera looks out the window and sees the police from East Berlin staring back.) The realities of the Cold War figure heavily in the characters' lives, as it's suggested that Helen (the other Adjani) is from behind the Iron Curtain (she speak of readily identifiable evil, which could be interpreted as the visible presence of an authoritarian regime) and that Mark's work is in the field of intelligence, maybe even espionage. But the movie is less interested in pointing out political specifics than in the accompanying sense of repression and division, which plays heavily into the visual style. The movie often divides its frames to separate the characters, but rarely with any sense of symmetry, suggesting a sense of emotional chaos enhanced by the bruising mixture of wide angle lenses and handheld camerawork. When we're with Mark, the movie looks overcast, bluish grey, appropriately repressed at first, although Anna's presence throws his neat, fluorescently-lit apartment into disarray. Anna's love nest, situated in the Turkish district right beside the Wall is dilapidated and unkempt, which may have reflected the squalid realities of a hastily rented apartment in what I assume is a poorer part of town, but after having excised the orderly part of herself, it seems like an accurately messy reflection of her headspace.

Now back to the f_ck-squid. It's hard to go into Possession this day and age completely blind, and even back when I first saw it, it came on my radar as the movie where "Isabelle Adjani f_cks a squid". I have a lot of respect for Zulawski for delivering the goods on this front and for Adjani for throwing herself into this material, not because I'm some kind of sexual deviant who gets off on this stuff (although if you are, I'm not here to judge, it's a free country, just clear your browsing history after), but because modern arthouse cinema often defaults to a mode of cold, downplayed and too afraid to raise the audience's pulse (because apparently it's undignified to force a reaction out of the audience) and it's nice to see a movie serve what it says on the tin (this is one I'd have loved to see with an unsuspecting audience back in the day). Producer Marie Laure-Reyre notes that Zulawski was very hands on with the conception of the monster, drawing inspiration from gargoyles in Polish architecture, as if to further imbue political context into the proceedings. When seeing the end product, I can only assume Zulawski broke up with his wife at a seafood restaurant (I would hope he didn't react like Mark and throw around all the tables and chairs). Of course, the design of the monster means that the movie leans heavily into body horror, and its inclusion on the Video Nasty list in the UK and its release in the US in a heavily-trimmed 81-minute version emphasizing these elements likely contributed to its psychotronic reputation early on. (I am still interested in seeking out this cut, as I can't imagine the loss of 40 whole minutes wouldn't substantially alter the film's character.) It flirts with other genres as well. Certain scenes have a clear slapstick quality. Some of these involve Heinrich, the ever-reliable target of the film's ridicule, but there is also Margit Cartensen, playing Anna's friend and Mark-hater Marge, falling on her ass like a Three Stooges bit. And there's the climax, parodying action movies with its woozy cocktail of car chase, shootout and explosions, which leads a headlong rush into the film's apocalyptic final moments.




No argument from me that Getty was the weakest part of the film, and his portion suffers for it. I'm not sure if Lynch cast him because of the Frankenstein-head thing (he does look like a wax Bill Pullman that's been left in the microwave too long), or if he felt he had just the right amount of stupid on his face at all times. Sometimes I wonder if Lynch casts the occasional actor just because he wants to make fun of them, Michael Cera in TP: The Return, for example. Did Lynch take the job of directing that Duran Duran concert because he likes their music or just for the opportunity to have Barbie dolls dance with "D"s on their breasts. We'll never know.
I'm pretty sure he did this with Billy Ray Cyrus. And judging by the fact that he was one of the things I remembered most clearly from my original viewing, it worked.



The only other performance I can think of that manages to sustain the same level of emotional and physical mania as Adjani in this one is...(drum roll)...Falconetti in Passion of Joan of Arc. Another film which understands you can maintain a hysterical level of feeling for the entire runtime. You should check it out!



The only other performance I can think of that manages to sustain the same level of emotional and physical mania as Adjani in this one is...(drum roll)...Falconetti in Passion of Joan of Arc. Another film which understands you can maintain a hysterical level of feeling for the entire runtime. You should check it out!
Never heard of it.*



(My condolences to those of you who've been dumped for a monstrous f_ck-squid.)
I appreciate that, thank you. Zulawski's fascination with alien cuckolding is also evident in On The Silver Globe, with its telepathic f_ck falcons seducing our nimble heroines. I think he was divorced while shooting this film, so maybe that's when this obsession began, or maybe, you know, his wife just wasn't into it. The Polish authorities weren't either.


(this is one I'd have loved to see with an unsuspecting audience back in the day).
My first copy of the film (which I have in a box somewhere) was a VHS copy that was sold for $1.99 at a Blockbuster when they would occasionally sell off the films that no one rented. This was the 81 minute version. I assumed it was going to be more of a traditional demonic possession type of thing, but I really liked the weird frenzy, contrasted with the cold and sterile Euro-architechure, and Adjani is obviously a force unto herself here. But pretty much everyone else that I showed it to hated it. Really hated it. Like it became a joke about my taste in films after that. At least a couple refused to finish it. I imagine you'd see waves of walkouts before the squid even shows up. A small contingency of survivors would probably be laughing inexplicably (like me).


The edit definitely made the film less coherent, and rendered a lot of it messier and more rushed. This was also pan-and-scan and was already maybe a 15 year old copy at that point, so the squid wasn't even very clear in the grainy VHS shadows. It worked for me, but I'm glad that the film has been restored and rediscovered. I was right all along, bastards!!!!



I appreciate that, thank you. Zulawski's fascination with alien cuckolding is also evident in On The Silver Globe, with its telepathic f_ck falcons seducing our nimble heroines. I think he was divorced while shooting this film, so maybe that's when this obsession began, or maybe, you know, his wife just wasn't into it. The Polish authorities weren't either.



My first copy of the film (which I have in a box somewhere) was a VHS copy that was sold for $1.99 at a Blockbuster when they would occasionally sell off the films that no one rented. This was the 81 minute version. I assumed it was going to be more of a traditional demonic possession type of thing, but I really liked the weird frenzy, contrasted with the cold and sterile Euro-architechure, and Adjani is obviously a force unto herself here. But pretty much everyone else that I showed it to hated it. Really hated it. Like it became a joke about my taste in films after that. At least a couple refused to finish it. I imagine you'd see waves of walkouts before the squid even shows up. A small contingency of survivors would probably be laughing inexplicably (like me).


The edit definitely made the film less coherent, and rendered a lot of it messier and more rushed. This was also pan-and-scan and was already maybe a 15 year old copy at that point, so the squid wasn't even very clear in the grainy VHS shadows. It worked for me, but I'm glad that the film has been restored and rediscovered. I was right all along, bastards!!!!
Reading the IMDb description


The shortest version of Possession runs 80 minutes and was cuts in nearly every scene with a number of scenes being completely deleted, especially near the end. Several scenes were also moved to another location. Anna's ballet lesson and Mark's report to his superiors were used as a pre-credits sequence. Anna's miscarriage in the subway tunnel appeared before Mark visited Heinrich and Mark's first encounter with Helen appeared after he sat on the bed by Margit. The film's climax was rendered incomprehensible by the heavy use of filters and editing. The film also featured a new soundtrack, composed by Art Philips (III), playing up the horror aspect of the film featuring a children's choir rendition of "Baa Baa Black Sheep" and other themes featuring distorted voices and synths.

I was looking on the Mondo Vision website and it sounded like they wanted to release the 81-minute cut but dropped it at the last minute. Maybe there was the threat of a lawsuit? There's a reference to making it available online for free, but this looks to be from a few years ago, so not sure it ever happened.



Note Regarding Omitted Extra Feature:
During 1980s, the North American distributors removed 40 minutes from the film, and re-scored, re-arranged and visually altered the remaining 80, apparently to satisfy a commercial objective. The result stands as a textbook example of the power of re-editing in distorting a filmmaker's vision. Sadly, this was the version seen by audiences during POSSESSION's North American debut. MONDO VISION transferred and restored this 80min version from a 35mm release print in order to give audiences a rare chance to examine the damage done by a reckless pair of scissors. However, to avoid conflict with those responsible, a last minute decision was made not to include this version as part of the extras. For anyone interested to witness this travesty, we are considering to make it available online free of charge. Stay tuned for more details.



Midnight Heat (Watkins, 1983)




This review contains spoilers.

Roger Watkins' Midnight Heat opens with slow motion shots of Times Square in the winter. It's a drab, dismal sight, and the ominous music that plays over the footage sets the tone. A caption flashes onscreen. "Sex can become a weapon." It's a quote credited to Henry Miller. (Upon further Googling I suspect this might not be a real quote, but the movie had me fooled at the time.) We see Jamie Gillis, alone in a high rise apartment, looking contemplatively out the window. He receives a call about a job, which he accepts, albeit a little indignantly. There's a POV shot going down a corridor, bathed in atmospheric blue lighting, with occasional glimpses of a man in an office reading a newspaper. Gillis comes in through the door and pulls out of a gun. Freeze frame. The title flashes on the screen while a thunderous gunshot noise erupts on the soundtrack.

With these opening moments, Watkins introduces a level of violence and accompanying dread that hangs over the rest of the movie, wherein Gillis hides out in a seedy hotel, meditating over what led him to this moment. You see, Gillis is a hitman, and in his own image a pretty good one, but not one immune to making bad decisions. One of these bad decisions would be sleeping with the boss's wife. (In true mafia fashion, when the boss catches him, he plants a kiss firmly on his lips. "I'll be seeing you in the streets") Another bad decision would be porking the boss' daughter (with whom he was casually discussing T.S. Eliot) and then making a mid-coital phone call to let the boss know. But the OG of these bad decisions was what got him into his line of work in the first place, taking an ill-advised job after blowing a sizable amount of money at the track. You see, like the name of a certain Charles Bronson film series, Gillis both wishes death upon others (as part of his work) and has a death wish himself. "The more dangerous something is, the more we forget about everything else. Danger motivates people. Otherwise why bother."

But Gillis doesn't do this thinking all by himself. He has the company of a hooker, who perhaps is moved by Gillis, having encountered this form of professional violence in her personal life. And while there are genre expectations to be met, Gillis seems more interested in her company over anything else, perhaps to fill a void in his own life. They eventually reach a meeting of minds, even if it isn't terribly comforting to either one.

"You're afraid of dying aren't you."

"I haven't learned very much but I have learned on thing. Only someone in constant terror of of annihilation can experience life as it was meant to be experienced."

"And you're one of those men."

"Yes."
Watkins directed this the same year as Corruption, with which this shares Gillis in the starring role, cinematography by Larry Revene and a similarly fatalistic tone. I enjoyed the other movie quite a bit more, but I must admit at least some of that is due to the technical disparity of the versions I watched for each one. That one was on a snazzy Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray, this one was on a blurry video-sourced transfer. In the other film, Revene does very precise things with underlighting and other techniques to create an oppressively chilly tone. Here I could grasp the impact of certain lighting and framing choices, but the low quality video image had a flattening effect on any precise flourishes present in the work. (One unintentional boon however was the way the dilapidated grey walls of the hotel room looked almost like fog thanks to the blurry transfer.) Even worse was the fact that the audio was just a bit out of sync, meaning that Watkins' more aggressive editing choices (switching between classical and porno-funk as he cuts between the street scenes and the sex) were thoroughly undermined.

Putting aside viewing conditions, I do think the other film is structured more engagingly so that the dread builds, although this one's inertia seems intentional, with the final moments driving home the purgatorial nature of the story. I think the other movie also bounces Gillis more effectively off of other characters (in particular, an almost demonic Bobby Astyr), whereas he only really has one person to play off here (Champagne, who I believe only has a few other credits, and whose IMDb page helpfully notes is not the same person as Phil Prince regular Cheri Champagne), although I did find her to be an intriguing screen presence. As for the sex scenes, Watkins had been frustrated that the ones in his earlier movies, which he delegated to producer Dave Darby, were too enjoyable for the raincoat brigade (despite making some very good films in the genre, he apparently didn't like it very much). I believe at this point (and certainly in Corruption), he'd taken over directing these scenes himself, although the effect is less consistent overall compared to the other movie. The flashback scenes are what I'd call conventionally enjoyable, despite the attempts to subvert them with cross-cutting, but the ones in the present are more potent, framed to have an isolating effect on the performers so that the sense of fatalism overrides any erotic impact. As for the climactic image, with Gillis' face contorted mid-thrust while the frame is flooded with red lighting, I appreciate the intention more than the end result. Anyway, I liked this less than the other films I've seen from Watkins and would like to see it in a better copy eventually, but it still has plenty of the qualities I enjoy about Watkins' work and is worth checking out if the idea of a hardcore mood piece tickles your fancy. And at less than seventy minutes, you can't lose.




Throat... 12 Years After (Damiano, 1984)




This review contains mild spoilers.

By the ‘80s, the nexus of porn filmmaking had shifted from New York to California, the sunny, warm weather vibes of the latter having replaced the grittier urban realities of the former. So when Throat… 12 Years After opens with images of New York City, it feels something like a statement. This isn’t going to be one of your trifles from the west coast. This is a real movie, about real people, dealing with real emotions. One of these real emotions is guilt, like what George Payne feels about cheating on his wife and visiting a hooker as he argues with his conscience on his drive home. (“There’s something between nine-to-five and meatloaf,” he tells himself.) Now, this conversation is played softly for laughs, but the movie does stack the deck in favour of one side by casting Sharon Mitchell as the bubblegum-chewing prostitute. In a room bathed in a pulsating red light that waxes and wanes in brightness, Mitchell asks him about his sex life as they prepare to do the deed.

“You ever done anything kinky?”

“One time the wife kept the slippers on.”
As the scene progresses, Mitchell recounts a schoolyard sexual encounter, and the movie proceeds to cut between her scene with Payne and her flashback with Phil Prince regular Dan Stephens (one of the more presentable male performers in that director’s stock company), and you can see how the movie navigates the differences in erotic qualities between the immediacy of the Mitchell/Payne scene and the almost ethereal Mitchell/Stephens scene. But as much as the actual sex, the scene’s interest lies in the before and after, the characters trying to wring meaning from their actions.

The rest of the movie follows this pattern. There’s a housewife, who at first is browbeaten by her mother to make some grandkids already (“Cook a nice dinner. Put on something see-through. Kids are what you need.”) and later finds solace in the visiting repairman, who sees through her marital troubles. (“People drift apart by inches, day by day, an inch at a time.”) The wife is played by Michelle Maren, who doesn’t have a whole lot of other credits to her name (Damiano was known for sometimes casting relative unknowns in major roles; the high water mark of this strategy would be the great Georgina Spelvin in The Devil in Miss Jones) yet is quite effective in her role (and has a very distinct hairdo to boot). The repairman is played by Eric Edwards, who I’ve sometimes found a little bland but happens to be very good at playing nice here, so much so that you don’t really hold it against the wife for being unfaithful.

Then there’s Sharon Kane, an older woman employing the services of an inexperienced male prostitute played by Jerry Butler. Kane is an experienced patron of such services, providing Butler with very specific instructions for preparing martinis and then chiding him over his inexperience. (“What’s with you, you can’t listen and suck at the same time? You an actor or something?”) It’s probably not very nice of Kane to tell Butler to his face that he’s not as good as her first (who we see in a flashback), but she also gets through a tricky bit of dialogue while being orally pleasured, so much respect in any case. The climax of the film follows Joey Silvera and Joanna Storm on a trip to an underground sex club. Their cabbie is played by Damiano in one of his cameos (a Camiano? Cameo-no?), delivering a joke about why you can’t drink a cold beer after a hot bath. (I won’t reveal the punchline, but I did laugh.) Once there, naturally they join the orgy that’s in progress, and while such scenes aren’t ones I find inherently erotic, this one is well put together for what it is. After having struggled through the interminable, shapeless orgy footage in Jungle Blue, I appreciate that this one, with its mix of stark lighting, unusual angles and acrobatic positions has a pretty distinct impact compared to the previous sex scene. (It’s also set to a disco song with embarrassingly graphic lyrics.)

Once all of this is over, the main characters, who we learn are couples and friends, get together, their relationships apparently having been strengthened by their sexual escapades. Their choice of entertainment explains the title, and they all toast (“To practice”) as the credits kick in, with flashbacks in splitscreen to the preceding antics. Throat… 12 Years Later was directed by Gerard Damiano, who placed more importance than the average director at the time on the dramatic potency of his films. The tagline explains the mission statement (“A reflection, not a sequel”), which is about reflecting on the acts featured while it’s delivering the goods, using its episodic structure to create emotional resonance. Damiano has a certain conservative streak in some of his work, but this is fairly sex positive, arguing that sex strengthens all the characters’ relationships, and extends to a defense of the hardcore porn genre, offering an argument that these movies can actually be emotionally rewarding. That it works as well as it does is due to the relative naturalism on display, carried by consistently strong performances and a good ear for dialogue, and the elegant yet varied visual style (cinematography courtesy of Larry Revene), which finds a distinct and potent atmosphere for each of the encounters.




Nightmare Sisters (DeCoteau, 1988)




This review contains mild spoilers.

David DeCoteau's Nightmare Sisters opens with a pretty hideous racial caricature, where an actor playing a fortune teller does a terrible Indian accent. Now, this was made in the '80s, the same decade we got Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles and Takashi in Revenge of the Nerds, so this level of racism is nothing out of the ordinary. But in those cases, you could at least argue that the performers were putting enough effort into their performances to make there scenes at least watchable. The guy here is teeeeerrible and his scene goes on for sooooo long. Anyway, the scene features a widow asking about her probably dead husband, who when summoned has his dick bitten off by an evil spirit, who then kills the fortune teller, making it the hero of the movie, or at least this scene. Because this is a pretty low budget affair, most of this is thankfully implied.

Thankfully, the movie gets quite a bit better after this point, as we move to a group of extremely dorky sorority sisters who come into possession of the fortune teller's crystal ball. These sorority sisters are played by established scream queens Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens and Michelle Bauer, who are specialists in these kinds of movies, and from whom I'd seen and enjoyed a few things. Quigley is one of the best parts of the great zombie movie Return of the Living Dead, which on top of being super entertaining and funny I've grown to find surprisingly moving with my last couple of viewings. (Great movies have a way of sneaking up on you like that.) Stevens is of course in the feminist slasher movie Slumber Party Massacre, which spells out the subtext of these movies by having the killer's weapon be an extremely phallic drill. And Bauer is in Cafe Flesh, which is not a horror movie but a porno, but likely a much more palatable one to normie viewers given its emphasis on mise-en-scene and elaborately choreographed stage performances over gynecology. I was happy to see all three present, is what I'm saying.

These girls, left with nothing to do over the weekend, decide to throw a party and invite the only guys they know, some real Robert Carradine Revenge of the Nerds mother****ers who are about as dorky as they are and similarly at the bottom rung of their fraternity. Of course once the party starts, they foolishly mess around with the crystal ball and the girls get possessed by the same spirit. Now, the girls were extremely dorky previously and had appearances that lined up with that image, with Quigley's buckteeth, Stevens' dangerously pointy glasses and Bauer's fatsuit. They seemed like perfectly nice people and might have had lots of inner beauty for all we know, but that doesn't photograph as well nor does it appeal to the horndogs in the audience, so once they get possessed they get a lot conventionally hotter and spend the rest of the movie in varying states of undress. This movie probably has more nudity than any non-porno I've watched in quite some time. Hell, right after their transformation, the immediately smear peach pie over their breasts and then spend what seems to be ten minutes bathing together while the Anthony Edwardsish heroes watch through a peephole. Apparently there's a TV-edit that excises all the nudity. I haven't watched it and can only assume it's ten minutes long.

It's worth noting at this point that DeCoteau is gay and this plays like a really broad attempt at pandering to the predominantly straight target male audience for these kinds of movies. As parodic as the results may be, I must shamefully admit that he has us dead to rights. Of course, given the title, something must be off, and as the homophobic meathead fraternity brothers who show up to give the male leads a hard time find out in the least pleasant way possible, it turns out that the girls have turned into succubi. Emphasis on the "suck", as the song that plays over the opening credits suggests. Or perhaps a more accurate name would be "bite-ubi". Given that they, you know, kill their victims by biting their dicks. Their "wing wangs", as one of the girls says while possessed. I think another uses the phrase "python of love", but I neglected to write down the complete line of dialogue so I could be wrong. DeCoteau is not a cruel man, so he spares us the sight of this act, but he taps into very real male anxieties in this movie.

Of course, to wrap this all up, the Curtis Armstrong, Lamar Lattrellish heroes enlist the help of an exorcist whose role is extremely self aware but not unamusing, and the situation is resolved with some pretty lo-fi special effects. (Okay, I lied, the heroes are a lot more presentable than Armstrong. Also Lamar Lattrell is actually the character's name and not the actor's, the heroes are all pasty white dudes and the only person with a musical number is Quigley. I ran out of Revenge of the Nerds references, I'm sorry.) This is an extremely unambitious affair, having been shot in four days as a challenge to use up short ends left over from the production of Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-a-Rama, but I had a good time. While I won't pretend that the shamelessly pandering nudity didn't have an effect on me, what really sells this movie is the presence of Quigley, Stevens and Bauer, who are extremely winning in playing their characters both pre- and post-possession. (I think the term "adorkable" applies to the former.) My technical knowledge is lacking here, but while I understand there were inconsistencies in the film stock used, I didn't find that to manifest in the film's (not particularly accomplished but also not unattractive) visual style. And the movie has a nice, laidback sense of humour, which (aside from the opening scene) sustains the good vibes over the brief runtime.




Patty Hearst (Schrader, 1988)




This review contains spoilers, but the movie is also based on real events. Read at your own risk.

Going into Paul Schrader's Patty Hearst, I expected a somewhat straightforward docudrama, but the result is anything but. Right from the beginning it places us closely to the subject's POV and stays there for the entire running time, from which the movie derives much of its power. The first act is especially tricky as Hearst's kidnappers blindfold her and lock her up in a closer for the initial portion of her captivity. Schrader keeps the screen almost entirely dark, with only the silhouettes and voices of her captors for us and her to hang onto. He also evokes Hearst's imagination through a number of sparse, stylized sets, bringing to mind a more dour version of the strategy he employed in Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. I owe that movie a rewatch, but I found this one quite a bit more effective, as it felt more closely tied to the protagonist's subjective experience here.

Perhaps acknowledging the change in Hearst's circumstances as well as the fact that a feature-length film in such a style might be a bit trying, Schrader eventually takes the blindfold off. Hearst becomes more integrated into the militant group which abducted her, and her role evolves from purely a captive to a member of the group. Yet our POV stays close to hers, even when Schrader moves the action to the better known events, staging the robberies and murders with an action-film-like kineticism that's a far cry from the cold, stripped down style of the earlier sections. A confrontation with the police, where most of the group is killed, is staged like something between an outsider and insider perspective, watching the events like Hearst on television and trying to reconcile her feelings with what it must have been like to see it on the news. Schrader even recreates the famous photograph, intentionally with little of the excitement it might have provoked when it hit the headlines. (I was not alive during the events chronicled in this movie, but among my generation, the photo has become a bit of a joke regarding political memes.)

The movie uses as the basis of its narrative Hearst's autobiography. I admit I only have a cursory knowledge of the subject, so I'm not going to fact-check the proceedings, but the directness of Schrader's style and the strength of Natasha Richardson's performance in the lead role render the events with great immediacy. Schrader is a noted admirer of Robert Bresson, and like him, is able to pile on the suffering and wring meaning from it without making it feel indulgent. Perhaps surprisingly, given Schrader's recent habit of making wildly inappropriate Facebook posts, this movie feels surprisingly resonant in light of the Me Too movement, given its attention to how Hearst is not only sexually assaulted by her captors but also conditioned to accept this abuse as they appropriate the language of political and sexual freedom. And as Hearst is captured and goes through the legal system, we get a sense of how victims in these situations can act in ways that don't always engender sympathy. When asked for her profession, she beams and replies "Guerilla".

And without being didactic, it gives us both a sense of the political fervour in such an environment and the accompanying hollowness. The robberies are shown to be driven as much by monetary desires and a desire to play cops and robbers as whatever political slant can be slapped onto them. The movie is astute about how, in certain spheres, race is fetishized and disingenuously substituted for authenticity and authority when convenient. Only the head of the militant group, played by Ving Rhames in a forceful performance, is black, and the remaining members, all white, seem to defer to him entirely on those grounds and derive their politics accordingly. One member, played by William Forsythe, is especially eager to slather on blackface ("F_ck, I wish I was black!"). In a later scene, this character steals a car from a group of Chicano at gunpoint, praises them on the grounds of their race and promptly curses them out when the engine gives out. (This is a grim movie, but there are a few chuckles to be had at the expense of the Forsythe character.) Only the Asian American militant played by Jodi Long, perhaps wizened by having a husband in jail, calls them out on their bullsh_t.

The militant group feels as much like a cult as a group of political terrorists, and as Hearst slowly deprograms after she's been captured, she becomes disillusioned with not just them, but the legal system and even those who have been trying to "help" by exerting control over her. Her final words, spoken almost directly to the camera, prove tremendously moving as a result. "F_ck them all."




Waterloo (Bondarchuk, 1970)



Because I responded to it so strongly, I'm trying to wrap my head around and contextualize the poor initial reception to Sergey Bondarchuk's Waterloo, his depiction of the famous battle made around four years after his War and Peace adaptation. As a biopic of Napoleon, it doesn't offer a whole lot of insight into his subject. Early on, the movie halfheartedly posits the notion that Napoleon had to be defeated because he was offensive to the bourgeois officer class, something Christopher Plummer's Duke of Wellington, first seen slathered in ghoulish make-up, practically says out loud. "On the field of battle his hat is worth fifty thousand men, but he is not a gentleman." Indeed, the movie contrasts Napoleon's fierce, driven nature with the decadence implied by the girth of Orson Welles, in a brief but well cast role as Louis the XVIII. (This helps us grasp why the French army can be seen betraying their king and joining his side, even without showing him to be especially charismatic.) But then as we cut between Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington as they spend time with their respective armies, seeing some of the rituals they both observe, and sense that they are perhaps not so different after all. Bondarchuk isn't terribly interested in mining his subject for psychological depth, but he does seem to identify with both Napoleon and Wellington as generals, orchestrators of vast logistical feats on a scale that his own films attempt to mirror. (It's worth pointing out that Rod Steiger, cast as Napoleon, strongly resembles Bondarchuk himself while Plummer resembles Vyacheslav Tikhonov, who played one of the heroes in War and Peace.) When Napoleon has moments of self-doubt in his narration, we suspect it mirrors Bondarchuk's own in mounting this production.

There's also the fact that the movie covers similar territory as War and Peace, which had only been released a few years earlier and also includes recreations of Napoleonic warfare. I guess the novelty might have worn off, especially in an era when the market for such large-scale productions had begun to dwindle. But viewed now, when movies regularly cheat to exceed such a scale through special effects to the point that it loses meaning, seeing something real and tactile play out at this size offers an increasingly rare thrill. To get a sense of the film's maddening scale, we can look at the hard numbers of the production. 17,000 extras (borrowed from the Soviet Army, whose assistance he had again), two hills bulldozed away, five miles of road laid, five thousand trees planted, six miles of underground piping laid to create the muddy battlefield conditions depicted. But it's one thing to list out stats and another to see the results onscreen, and like War and Peace, this offers no shortage of images like masses of soldiers disappearing into the horizon where the scale is precisely the point. On the whole this is more formally conservative work than that film, lacking the sheer stylistic abandon offered by the filters, superimpositions and weird editing choices deployed in the former, but it shares its fluid sense of screen composition, with many shots where smoke erupting from gunfire or cannonballs or changing troop formations abruptly alter the character of the image.

This movie also reminded me of Zulu, which purposefully had a rote first half setting up a host of cliches to be torn down by the extended battle sequence of the second half, where warfare serves as storytelling. Perhaps unintentionally, the first half here sets up the historical events in question as remote and unfeeling and then tries to place us in the characters' shoes as directly as possible in bringing them to life in the second half. When one of Napoleon's officers makes a strategic blunder in sending an unassisted cavalry charge against the rectangular formations of Wellington's army, Bondarchuk lifts the camera to the sky to let us see from above the implications of that decision and perhaps grasp Napoleon's thinking. I understand there are historical inaccuracies, and that Bondarchuk's meticulousness in this respect is more artistically than historically driven, but as my knowledge of the events captured roughly extend to the first line of ABBA's "Waterloo", I have no interest in fact-checking. That song also captures the tenuous nature of victory which he attempts to evoke with how the events unfold. ("I feel like I win when I lose.") There's the sense that Bondarchuk is conducting this like a piece of music, where the individual strategic maneuvers accumulate into a kind of crescendo. (That might not be the best analogy, but as my meager musical knowledge has been lost to the ages, it'll have to do.)

Quite frankly, I think the battle is thrilling enough on its own to make the movie worth seeing, but while I don't think the movie offers a lot of insight into Napoleon directly, I do think it holds plenty of interest when framed as the relationship Bondarchuk has with the figures and events in question. But yes, the battle is tremendous and, if you can tolerate the film's weaknesses in other areas, pushes Waterloo into a kind of unwieldy greatness.




I was wondering why crumbs skipped Abba in his 1975 album list.


(If I don't 'like' a review, it's probably because I haven't see those films.)



I was wondering why crumbs skipped Abba in his 1975 album list.


(If I don't 'like' a review, it's probably because I haven't see those films.)

I'd never listened to an actual ABBA album until the pandemic.



Turns out they had more than just their hits!



Turns out they had more than just their hits!
Urgh, these icy shiksas...



Purely Physical (Warfield, 1982)



Purely Physical starts with some '60s-esque music playing over the soundtrack while Laura Lazare cycles through San Francisco. Over narration we hear her trying to fill out a job application, having to deal with inane questions like the following:

"Sex? On occasion, but that's not what they mean."
"Mother's maiden name? Why the hell do they always ask you that? Peckinpah. P-E-C-K-I-N-P-A-H."
"Hobbies? I don't have any. I've got some habits."
I thankfully haven't been forced to look for a job in a couple of years, but I appreciate the movie's frankness about how bull**** the entire process is. The job to which she is applying is for a concierge at a motel. When she enters the office, she's wearing a green beret and sweater, both of which match her eyes. The walls of the office happen to be a similar colour, as does the sportcoat worn by the manager who greets her and explains the conditions. There's some amazing colour coordination going on in this scene, is what I'm saying.

Now, some very lucky people are able to work in jobs they are passionate about and line up to their skills and interests. The rest of us, including the heroine, work purely to pay the bills. The heroine is a student who takes on the job to help pay for tuition, but hopes the job will give her the additional benefit of providing material for her writing. The rest of the movie consists of her pondering on what all the guests are up to, and using that speculation to work on her book. Because this is a porno, what the guests are up to happens to be a whole lot of ****ing and sucking. Along the way, there is intrigue concerning a handsome trucker with whom she has a mutual attraction. Where will this lead? The genre gives away the ending.

This is the part where I reveal that my interest in vintage hardcore isn't entirely high minded, and admit that I sought this one out for the presence of two performers. One is Tigr, who may not be the most polished actress but has a spontaneity that I find refreshing in such material. She brings a similar nervy energy to her scene here, which hits a little close to home as she jumps the bones of a portly film buff who spouts off classic movie trivia before they get down to business. Did you know that Elmo Muller, Johnny Weismuller and Buster Crabbe all played Tarzan? Or that Tom Tyler played the mummy in The Mummy's Hand? Spend enough time with this guy and you will. That he dresses like Lyle Lanley the monorail salesman (or Dick Van Dyke in The Music Man, which would have been the era-appropriate reference) provides additional interest.

The other actress I watched this for is Juliet Anderson, who played Kay Parker's extremely insensitive and horny friend in Taboo and I understand made a career out of playing hot older women who like to ****. Here she plays a world weary woman on a business trip who comes on to the heroine, extolling the virtues of being with another woman, but has to settle for a solo scene, turning up the radio really loud so nobody hears her. I won't go too much into the details because I am a gentleman (a hand mirror and a pillow figure interestingly into the action), but I admit I was not unmoved by this scene or her performance. The rest of the movie offers similar pleasures, if not quite at the same level. I must report that an early scene is a little too choreographed to work as the awkward teenage fumbling it is supposed to depict, but that the performers involved are appealing enough to let it slide. I must also report that the funniest moment in the movie involves the heroine being shocked, SHOCKED to find out that a guest is seeing prostitutes in the motel, which I assume is the establishment's primary business model.

This is the kind of movie that if you told me a few years ago I would enjoy as an actual movie, I wouldn't have believed you. Having seen enough pornos at this point, I've acquired a taste for the modest pleasures of an unambitious but well executed dirty movie, which is the case for Purely Physical. For a movie about people ****ing in a motel, it has an awful lot of wistful music, which gives it a nice, classy vibe. The cast is pretty respectable (Lazare, Anderson and Tigr being the highlights) and mostly nice to look at, and given the single location and episodic structure, the movie is handsomely shot and well paced. When I look up director Chris Warfield, I see most of his credits are as a TV actor. I don't know how this compares to the dozen other movies he directed (almost all of which look to be pornos, mostly under the pseudonym Billy Thornberg), but there is a kind of low key confidence in the execution here. This is modest, but quite enjoyable on its own terms.




I'd never listened to an actual ABBA album until the pandemic.



Turns out they had more than just their hits!
Was the album ABBA's Greatest Hits?



I was wondering why crumbs skipped Abba in his 1975 album list.


(If I don't 'like' a review, it's probably because I haven't see those films.)
I'm musically dumb so can't break down their greatness in any interesting way, but I think ABBA is one of those things that's so obviously great and accessible that it can be easy to overlook their greatness or take it for granted.



I think the greatness of ABBA is pretty obvious and speaks for itself. When it comes to arrangements in pop music, I think there are very few who are better. Sure, they at times can verge on being almost maudlin show tunes, and a lot of their lyrics don't exactly rank as poetry. But if we overlook those occassional crimes, and get to the weird and sometimes sad heart of their songs, their peaks are pretty high.


I remember being a kid, who by default probably considered himself a fan of rock music, and because of this bands like ABBA and the Bee Gees were supposed to be my sworn enemies. And just always being baffled by the hostility. Like....why? What was wrong with them? Were people seriously not hearing what I was hearing?


In many ways, this would be the beginning of my indifference to the tastes of my peers because clearly, sometimes other people can't be trusted in such important matters.



I think the greatness of ABBA is pretty obvious and speaks for itself. When it comes to arrangements in pop music, I think there are very few who are better. Sure, they at times can verge on being almost maudlin show tunes, and a lot of their lyrics don't exactly rank as poetry. But if we overlook those occassional crimes, and get to the weird and sometimes sad heart of their songs, their peaks are pretty high.


I remember being a kid, who by default probably considered himself a fan of rock music, and because of this bands like ABBA and the Bee Gees were supposed to be my sworn enemies. And just always being baffled by the hostility. Like....why? What was wrong with them? Were people seriously not hearing what I was hearing?


In many ways, this would be the beginning of my indifference to the tastes of my peers because clearly, sometimes other people can't be trusted in such important matters.
I didn't really get into ABBA until a few years ago, but I do remember all the rockheads (for lack of a better term) I knew in high school hated them with a passion. I remember one kid, being a dumbass, said in front of a teacher, who was gay, that "ABBA is so gay". The teacher grumbled and said, "Yes, they do make very happy music" or something to that effect. I think the teacher won that round.